The Doctrine of Total Depravity
The doctrine of "Total Depravity" is sometimes called "Total Inability" or "Radical Depravity." No matter what title it is given, the meaning is the same. We will use the title "Total Depravity" as it is the traditional title first used for the doctrine.
Total Depravity may be defined in this way:
"Because of the effect of sin that came upon all of mankind at the fall in Genesis 3, all people have been seriously affected by sin in every part of their being, mind, body and soul. Sin has rendered mankind unable to understand spiritual things and unable to know or love God in our own strength. Because of the effects of the fall, mankind is enslaved to sin and does it’s bidding not under compulsion, but freely chooses to do so because mankind loves it sinful actions. Mankind is incapable of freeing themselves from the effects of sin."
One thing that should be cleared up about this doctrine, and this is often a misconception of what is taught by it, is that total depravity does not teach that mankind is a evil, or sinful as it could possibly be. Even though everyone is born totally depraved we pass opportunities for evil all the time. Even Hitler probably walked on by an opportunity to kick a puppy out in front of a truck one time. Everyone could be more sinful, that isn’t the point. The point is that sin has effected every part of every person, totally.
Where shall we start in showing what Scripture says about this? Well I think it’s always best to start the story from the beginning, Genesis 3.
I trust that anyone with even a passing knowledge of Scripture knows the basic story of the fall. God creates His perfect creation including Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve rebel against God and sin by eating the fruit of the tree of which they were commanded not to eat. And because of this rebellion against God, sin enters creation.
This now brings us to Genesis 3:16-19.
16To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you."
17And to Adam he said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 'You shall not eat of it,'cursed is the ground because of you;in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Let’s look at some of sins effects upon creation.
1.We see that sin increased pain in giving birth to children. So sin has changed things in a physical bodily sense.
2. We see that relationships between men and women, husband and wife are affected by sin. Even though God created women to be a helpmate to men, now because of sin the natural tendency is for the woman to control her husband and lead even though that is the husbands duty, and in turn the husband because of sin often rules over his wife unlovingly.
Note the word desire is the same Hebrew word in Genesis 4:7.
"7If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it."
Clearly "desire" is equated with taking control.
3. We see that due to sin the very earth itself has been effected. Before the fall plant life grew with ease but due to sin now any farmer can testify that it is a struggle to produce healthy crops free of weeds and thorns. It take much work, and now days money, to produce good crops.
4. And then finally we see that due to sin, mankind now eventually dies. The body decays and eventually gives out.
Most importantly however is the loss of relationship with God that mankind suffered when sin took hold of creation.
"22Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever--" 23therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life."
The Garden of Eden was where man and God literally walked together, and enjoyed fellowship that we can now only imagine. And because of sin, mankind was cast out from the garden, and cast out of the direct presence of God.
Literally thousands of years went by between the time of the fall of man and the New Testament times, but was man able to break free from the grip of sin? No. Just look at what Paul writes in Romans 1:18-32.
"18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
24Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
28And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them."
Man has done nothing to slow the effects of sin. Man is incapable of doing so, nor does man desire to do so. Mankind does not only murder, slander, gossip, boast, etc.,etc., but we also "give approval to those who practice them."
Think of the ethnic cleansing that continues to go on today. Think of the abortion that thrives in our own country today. And what do you see... people cheering on murder. You may say, "well I do not approve of such things", but many do, and you are not so righteous yourself. Maybe you’ve never murdered anyone, but you’ve lied, you’ve probably stolen, you have certainly disobeyed your parents, you’ve gossiped, you’ve slandered, and much more, you sin every single day as do I! Do not play the self justification game, you’ll lose.
If anyone should think that they don’t fit the categories given in Romans 1then they should look at Romans 3:10-18.
10as it is written:"None is righteous, no, not one; 11no one understands; no one seeks for God. 12All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." 13"Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.""The venom of asps is under their lips." 4"Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." 15"Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16in their paths are ruin and misery, 17and the way of peace they have not known." 18"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
No one who believes the Bible to be the word of God can escape the grasp of this passage. Words and phrases like "none" and "no one" and "all" pretty well nail us all to the truth, that every man, women and child, is totally depraved. Our hearts are naturally bent upon sin. We love sin, it’s what we do best. We are good at it. We don’t want to know God, we serve our own gods that serve our own purposes. We are natural born liars and murderers at heart. "There is no fear of God before their (our) eyes."
1 Corinthians 2:14 tells us that "14The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned."
We all enter this world as "natural" people. None of us on our own "accept the things of the Spirit of God." We ride them off as folly, foolishness. Even more we are told that those who are natural and in the flesh are hostile to the things of God.
"7For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8Those who are in the flesh cannot please God."
We are incapable as sinners to submit to God’s law, His word, His truth. We cannot please God as depraved sinners, nor do we want to.
When the serpent said to the woman in the garden of Eden, "surely you will not die" he knew something very well. They did not physically die that day when they rebelled against God, but the died spiritually at that very moment, and now everyone in mankind is born spiritually dead from the womb.
"12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned."
What does God promise for those who rebel against Him and continue in their sin? "... it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment." (Hebrew 9:27) And 2 Peter 3:7 says "But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly."
Look at 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10.
"5This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering-- 6since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed."
God requires holiness in order for us to fellowship with Him. God says in 1 Peter 1:16 "...You shall be holy, for I am holy." But as Scripture has very clearly shown, man is not holy. Man is evil and bent on doing evil, they love their sin and sin rules over them.
So let me leave you today with this one very important question.
If God requires perfect holiness/righteousness as a prerequisite for fellowship with Him. If we must be righteous to enter the kingdom of God on judgement day, what hope do we have?
Some will rightfully say, Jesus. But understand, we have been told that the natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit. We have been told that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. We are told that no one seeks for God. Our natural inclination is to forsake God. Our nature allows nothing else but to deny God and His son Jesus Christ. Is that not what Scripture has so clearly said?
So if we are incapable of doing anything pleasing before God, and we naturally reject spiritual things and therefore naturally choose to reject the Son of God who is the only hope of salvation, and God requires perfect righteousness for salvation, what hope does mankind have?
The answer is in God’s word, and we will look at that next time.